This post is a continuation in the series on different forms of complexity in a project environment, we have covered structural complexity and social complexity in earlier articles and now, in this article, we are exploring goal complexity and its influence on project delivery. Goal complexity contributes substantially to the ability to deliver projects, with every additional unknown compounding the overall complexity of the endeavour.
Goal uncertainty complexity occurs around issues such as the clarity of project objectives, any bias the project may have toward particular outcomes and solutions, how mature the decision making policy is and the overall understanding of any required trade off between cost, schedule and quality.
- Clarity of objectives – It may seem obvious, but if the goals of a project are not clear to all parties and individuals, the project is going to get into trouble. The trouble may not be major, though often it is, but at some point in the life of the project there will be a clash of understandings when one party is working to what it believes are the objectives while another is working to theirs and the two do not mesh. This could be a situation where one group is trying to design something to have a long functional life where the intent is to have a product that is only going to be used for a few months, or it could be one group believes the objective is to develop a major piece of landmark social architecture while the other is developing something purely functional (think opera house versus car park for instance). Whatever the circumstances, if the objectives are not made clear to all from the very start you are headed for problems. Define and socialise all of the objectives of your projects to avoid goal complexity.
- Bias – biases can occur in a number of ways but again, unless they are understood, they can lead to lots of issues. In a client to supplier relationship the biases are usually quite clear, the client typically wants the most “bang for their buck” and the supplier wants to make the largest profit possible from the venture, resulting in clashes over quality and scope of supply where the client may well pursue the supplier to deliver beyond the written contracted scope and the supplier may try to either just meet the scope or, in some circumstances, deliver slightly under it. In internal projects similar situations can also occur though the lines are often murkier in the absence of a formal contract. Identify the real and potential biases in your project and plan for their management
- Decision making policies – how are decisions made in your project and your organisation? do your project leaders have the right levels of authority to make the decisions they need or do they have to seek approval from outside the project? who has final say on decisions, is it the person most informed and able to weigh the decision or is it a client or senior manager? All of these need to be carefully considered when setting the decision making policies for your project and your organisation. If a project manager must explain every decision they make to someone outside of the project several things will happen – the project will be slowed while decisions are processed, the project manager will become frustrated at the delays, and, you will expose the project to political influences outside of the project that may impact the success of the project. None of this is to say that projects should not have good governance, but sensible policies need to be implemented to ensure the overall interests of the project as defined and agreed are considered. Establish sensible and fit for purpose decision making processes for your projects.
- Cost, scope and quality trade off – balancing the scope, cost and quality in any project is a perennial challenge, it lies at the very heart of project management and is a constant battle between what the project will deliver versus how much it will cost and the quality that the project is required to achieve. For some projects, cost will be the key and the minimum acceptable scope is to be delivered at the minimum acceptable quality, this could be for a project that is being used as a stop gap while a larger project is being undertaken. In other projects the scope at a defined quality may be the absolute priority with cost being less of a consideration, this could be in a public health or defense situation where capability is key to the success of the project and, within reason, the project owners will pay whatever is needed. Consider and define your project’s priorities around cost, scope and quality.
What does goal complexity mean to virtual teams
For a virtual or distributed team any uncertainty over the way a project is to be implemented, its controls, its intended outcome or its balance between cost, scope and quality will have a detrimental impact on how the project runs and the risks associated with a successful outcome, and this includes goal complexity. If, for instance, personnel in a remote office are not sure of the decision making process they will be slowed by having to ask for clarity on every call they need to make. If they have to refer every decision to someone in another location they will feel untrusted and as though they are being monitored at every step of the way, and a team who does not feel trusted will not perform to their optimum. As such, any additional uncertainty, whether around goals or elsewhere, will increase the delivery risk of the project.
How can we help?
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
Please enter your details below to register for our newsletter containing updates and insights into effectively running virtual teams.